High drama in Lok Sabha; BJP not helping to strengthen Lokpal, says Pranab; Opposition terms Bill "weak"
The Lok Sabha on Tuesday night passed a historic Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011, but defeated a parallel Constitution (116th Amendment) Bill, which would have given the Lokpal constitutional status.
In a major embarrassment to the UPA government, Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee admitted that the government did not have the requisite two-thirds majority to get the Constitution Amendment adopted. “It is a sad day for democracy,” he said.
Mr. Mukherjee accused the Bharatiya Janata Party of not helping to strengthen the Lokpal and Lokayuktas by giving them constitutional status, even as there was a sharp exchange of words between the treasury and the main Opposition benches.
After three clauses of the Constitution Amendment Bill were defeated, Speaker Meira Kumar announced that it had fallen and had become “infructuous.” Congress general secretary and MP Rahul Gandhi, who had first proposed that the Lokpal be given constitutional status on the lines of the Election Commission, appeared visibly upset. His idea was also favoured by the report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Lokpal.
The Whistle-blowers Bill (Protection to Persons Making the Disclosures Bill, 2010) was also passed by the Lok Sabha, which literally burnt the midnight oil to complete the legislative business.
After a marathon debate, lasting for over 10 hours, the Lok Sabha passed by voice vote the Bill for creation of the Lokpal.
Fate in Upper House
In the next step, the Bill will have to get the nod from the Rajya Sabha before it goes to the President for her assent. The UPA government does not have a majority in the Upper House and so the fate of the anti-graft Bill will be at the mercy of the Opposition.
The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill also saw a number of amendments, moved by the government. One of the key amendments accepted was keeping the defence forces and coast guard personnel out of the purview of the anti-graft ombudsman and increasing the exemption time of former MPs from five to seven years.
SP, BSP walk out
A number of amendments moved by the Opposition, which sought to bring corporates and the media under the Lokpal, were defeated. The Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party staged a walkout, saying their demands were not being met.
In an intervention, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked all the parties to “rise above partisan politics” to demonstrate to the people of the country that “this House means business” in its effort to combat corruption.
He said a “holistic” approach was needed to deal with the “cancer” of corruption but rejected demands for bringing the CBI within the purview of the Lokpal. No entity should be created inconsistent with the constitutional framework, he cautioned.
A number of parties, including the BJP, the BJD, the JD(U), the RJD, the SP, the TDP and the Left described the Lokpal Bill as “weak” and wanted it withdrawn.
Countering the Opposition charge, Mr. Mukherjee rejected the contention that the legislation had been brought in “haste” or under pressure. He said the country and the people had been waiting anxiously for the past four decades for an effective law to curb corruption.
“There is a long history of the last six months. We entered into a dialogue with civil society,” Mr. Mukherjee said. “It is not under duress but we wanted to have a strong anti-corruption legislation in the form of a Lokpal, an ombudsman which will examine corruption in high places,” he said.
Congress evasive on numbers
The Congress on Tuesday night remained ambivalent on the party MPs who remained absent when voting on the Constitution Amendment Bill on the Lokpal was taken up in the Lok Sabha.
“We don't know how many [MPs] were there. It is for the Parliamentary Affairs Minister and our leader to decide,” Minister of State in the PMO V. Narayanasamy told journalists at the Parliament House.
He was replying to a question on the Congress MPs who failed to make it for the voting.
The UPA strength is 277, including five MPs of Ajit Singh's RLD, which recently joined the alliance.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister P.K. Bansal admitted that at least 25 MPs of the Congress and its allies were not present during the voting.
“We knew our numbers. But we wanted to show that we really wanted to have a strong Lokpal. And for that, we wanted to give it constitutional status. But the BJP and other Opposition parties did not want that to happen,” he said.